There has been a lot of talk this week about how the Commander in Chief should communicate with Gold Star Families. Following what could be this Administration’s Benghazi, questions arise as to how a President best consoles a family, and a nation, when a young man or woman in uniform is killed in action. In the wake of four military deaths in an area of the world few Americans understood to be a site of active combat operations, the response of the White House was slow, ratcheted up quickly to defensive, hit cruising altitude at insensitive, and bottomed out with empty threats, followed by the staggeringly cruel exploitation of a military lion.
It started when members of the press – those scoundrels – asked His Eminence why had not publicly acknowledged the deaths of 4 Marines. He could have said that plans were in the works while acknowledging the loss of life and the sacrifices of these men and their families. He could have expressed the thanks of a grateful nation and asked for prayers on behalf of these fallen men and those they left behind.
Indeed, this entire flack could have been avoided entirely if the Orange Moron had simply answered truthfully…after all, there were tweets about the NFL to pound out and a humanitarian crises in Puerto Rico to ignore…who had the time? Were Senor Sissyhands not such a slave to his Brobdignagian ego, this matter could have ended before it even began.
Instead, his pathological need to compare himself with his predecessor – declaring himself to be the better man each time he does so – led him to aver, without any proof whatsoever, that President Obama had not called, or in some instances, even written, to the families of servicemen and women killed in action. In a matter of mere seconds, he was forced to walk back that claim, blaming “my generals” if he was found to have misstated the facts. (That’s real leadership, by the way – blaming those in uniform who almost certainly said no such thing in the first place).
It was bad enough that our president (who, apparently, has never gotten on board with the whole “the buck stops here” thing) to try to shift the attention from his own lack of timely response to the deaths of four servicemen in Niger (which, it turns out, I’ve been pronouncing wrong all these years), but even worse to invoke the death of his chief of staff’s son as proof of what a piece of shit our former President truly is. Turns out that when Second Lieutenant Robert Kelly was killed in 2010, his family didn’t get a phone call from then-President Obama. I guess it doesn’t matter that General Kelly and his wife were invited to a 2011 Memorial Day Luncheon hosted by the White House for Gold Star families, or that he sat at the President and First Lady’s table, or that General Kelly has, for the last 6 years, resolutely refused to discuss his son’s death, or that he had no warning that his boss was going to do just that – all so he could prove how much better a leader he is than Obama.
Then we learned that Trump, in a phone call to the pregnant widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, said something along the lines of, “He knew what he signed up for, but still, it’s sad.” Which, if true, isn’t terribly sensitive, and probably wasn’t what Mrs. Johnson needed to hear.
We later learned that U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson was there when the call was made, and neither she nor Mrs. Johnson were pleased by what the Cheetoh in Charge had to say. Instead of calling Mrs. Johnson back, or issuing a public apology, or in some other way attempting to clarify what he meant (which was probably something like, “even though he knew that being in the military meant he could be killed, he did it anyway – what a brave, dedicated man”), Trump did what he inevitably did: He doubled down and made it worse.
As with the Comey revelations concerning his conversations with Herr Kommandant, Trump dared Wilson to repeat her version of the phone call so he could produce “proof” that she was lying. This is standard operating procedure for Officer Orangutan, who once claimed he had proof that President Obama had bugged his office at Trump “Still Only 58 Floors, Even though He Claims it’s 100′ Taller” Tower, but never actually produced any. The White House has since confirmed that there’s no recording of the call (although it’s possible that the microwave oven may have captured the conversation). Not surprisingly, Representative Wilson refused to back down.
So then the Bigliest President Since William Howard Taft did what he always does when someone calls his bluff: He made someone else clean up his mess. He didn’t enlist Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who has gone from Fresh-Faced Snarkmeister to World-Weary, Bitter Middle School Spanish I Teacher in a matter of months). He didn’t tap Kellyanne Conway or another of his ridiculous surrogates to hit the airwaves and explain how he got more electoral votes than all previous presidential candidates ever, combined, or remind us about Hillary’s e-mails. Because Hillary’s e-mails.
No, he called on General Kelly – a man who has never been asked to speak on behalf of the administration on anything – to be his standard-bearer on the ONE issue he desperately DID NOT WANT TO TALK ABOUT. But hey, Trump wouldn’t have asked unless it had been important, right? Anyway, that’s what friends are for.
And General Kelly did his job, as he always has. He gave a press conference in which confirmed that Obama didn’t call him when his son died. He explained what Trump really meant when be spoke with Mrs. Thompson. He talked about respect for women and how you shouldn’t dis Gold Star Families (which is sort of funny given that his boss has done both of those things on multiple occasions).
Still, you could hardly listen to General Kelly without feeling like you had somehow disappointed him, even though it wasn’t you on the phone making that call to Mrs. Johnson or grabbing some woman by the pussy. I felt like I’d personally let him down, even if it’s only because I think his boss is a Ziploc baggie full of maggot pus, because General Kelly had credibility, and we respected him, and we believed that if it came out of his mouth, it was probably worth listening to. Also, those of us who are in serious doubt as to the psychological fitness of our current chief executive were sort of counting on General Kelly to be the one thing standing between Trump and annihilation.
Now we know better.
In the short run, General Kelly’s words probably helped Captain Charming. His base ate it up, and even those who despise Trump had to admit that the Chief of Staff made some good points, even if some of them later turned out not to be true, because, of all the asshats that are usually trotted out to apologize for a president that does most of his governing on the toilet, this man actually had some credibility.
My initial response to all of this was to feel very badly indeed for General Kelly. I worried that that he would become the new Guy Who Fixes Up the Really Bad Shit and that eventually, he’d lose his credibility. I worried that if Trump kept trotting him out every time he needed someone to defend his bad behavior, he would lose the gravitas gained over almost 50 years of military service, 3 wars, and the death of a beloved son.
We didn’t have to wait long for that to happen. In the few days that have passed since Trump was first made aware by the press that four American soldiers had perished in Western Africa, General Kelly has found himself in the crosshairs, and already, he has lost much of the luster that previously attended his service as Chief of Staff. As he was proven to have been incorrect in his allegations concerning Representative Wilson’s conduct at a building dedication in Florida in 2015, and as some wondered about the unnecessary stridency of Kelly’s criticisms of Wilson, it became clear that the Trump Administration had grossly miscalculated the benefit to be gained when it chose to spend the precious political capital of a four-star general’s integrity in service of defending a man who avoided military service based upon alleged “bone spurs.” Surely someone in the administration is wondering why anyone thought it made good sense to ask General Kelly to get involved in a stupid battle Trump alone started, all because of his ceaseless need to prove that he’s a better president that Obama, and remember – NO ONE ASKED HIM ABOUT PRESIDENT OBAMA. NO ONE.
General Kelly may have believed that his words were in service of a greater good, but history will inevitably prove him wrong. What a tragedy it would be for this most selfless of patriots to squander his integrity, his stature, and most of all, the quiet dignity of a heartbroken father, all for a man whose greatest personal struggle during his 70 odd years on this earth has been the way the press just keeps running video of him when he says things.
I feel bad for General Kelly, and the two Johnson families, the Wright family, and the Black familiy, and every Gold Star Family that has ever known the wrenching agony of a life ended too quickly in service of a country that does precious little to show its support and gratitude (that is, unless uppity black men have the nerve to suggest that that institutional racism is wrong, and then only by re-posting semi-literate memes that allow them to feel patriotic AND self-righteous at the same time). This dialogue is about all the wrong things, at a time when consolation, and empathy, and most of all, selflessness, is what is called for from our president. Sadly, Trump is not at all familiar with those qualities, and his behavior gives us little reason to think that he ever will be.
General, I honor your sacrifice and wish you’d been permitted the privacy concerning the death of your son that anyone with an ounce of compassion would recognize as your due. You earned the right to keep your own counsel on this most personal of matters, and shame on the fetid, festering anal fissure that asked you to stand up his flagging legitimacy (if, indeed, he has ever had any), and to do so on the grave of your dead son.
The fact remains, however, that you let him, and let’s face it – you’re not a shrinking flower or someone who isn’t used to dealing with bullies. You were a member of the United States Marines, thought by many to be the toughest, most hard-core of all the branches of the military. To quote the inimitable Jack Palance, you shit bigger than Donald Trump, and yet you allowed him to exploit you the way he exploits everyone who spends enough time with him. If you’re waiting for him to say thank you, get used to disappointment, and if you think you’ve earned yourself “untouchable status” because you spoke out on his behalf, think again: You are expendable as Preibus, Bannon, Flynn, Price, Spicer, Scaramucci, Gorka….well, you get the idea. To be blunt, don’t get too comfortable in your Leo McGarry office. You probably won’t be there that long.
So while I feel sad for General Kelly, I don’t feel too sad. He should have known better; what’s more, as any parent knows, when you don’t allow your kids to suffer the consequences of their bad behavior, you’ve pretty much guaranteed that it will be repeated.